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Neoliberal Apartheid: Palestine/Israel and South Africa after 1994

June 14, 2017 at 3:44 pm

Neoliberal Apartheid: Palestine/Israel and South Africa after 1994 by Andy Clarno, University of Chicago Press 2017
  • Book Author(s): Andy Clarno
  • Published Date: 2017
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Paperback: 306 pages pages
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226430096

In “Neoliberal Apartheid: Palestine/Israel and South Africa after 1994” (University of Chicago Press, 2017), Andy Clarno presents a different perspective on settler colonialism and how this plays into the inequalities experienced by Palestine and South Africa at different ends of the political spectrum. The Palestinian struggle for liberation is perpetually strangled by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, while South Africa was democratised after the fall of apartheid, yet both have become experimental havens for what Clarno calls “racial capitalism”.

These inequalities in Palestine and South Africa are analysed by the author, taking into consideration “shifting relationships between racism, capitalism, colonialism and empire.” Recent scholarship, states Clarno, has eliminated capitalism from settler-colonial narratives, resulting in a discrepancy when attempting to form a coherent analysis.

The comparative analysis commences with an assertion which has been voiced frequently, that Israel’s settler-colonialism is a more extreme form of apartheid than the South African experience. Clarno clarifies the main differences: Zionist settler-colonialism is based upon displacement and extermination of the indigenous population, while South African settler-colonialism functioned through exploitation. What is inherent in both forms is the accumulation of land and wealth through oppression, hence apartheid is defined by Clarno “as a system of racial capitalism.”


The author explains how privilege in South Africa and Palestine has defined inequality. The limits placed upon decolonisation through neoliberal capitalism in South Africa resulted in exclusionary efforts with regard to employment, wealth and security, while Palestine is incarcerated between limited autonomy in the form of the Palestinian Authority even as Israel pursues an aggressive settler-colonial strategy. In this regard, he states, “Colonial and racial anxieties produced in the moment of conquest are reproduced by the structures of subjugation.”

Since the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign gained considerable momentum, South Africa has been hailed as an example for Palestinians to follow with little criticism of the ramifications of the subsequent democratic rule which still derives power from privilege due to limitations placed upon the decolonisation process. Clarno notes that most studies have eliminated the marginalisation occurring post-1994 in South Africa, which resulted in a system imbued with inequalities due to the choice of adapting neoliberal policies.

The legal equity which defines South Africa does not necessarily extend to the entire population. Like Palestine as a result of Israeli settler-colonialism and PA collaboration, South Africa is characterised by the divide in wealth and poverty, the exploitation of the working class and securitisation. Despite living different political realities, the author portrays many similarities between Palestine and South Africa which prove the power of the elite. In Palestine’s case, writes Clarno, “The Palestinian enclaves are not spaces of concentrated poverty but spaces of concentrated inequality where the rich and poor live together side by side.”

Read: Israeli expansionist, colonial settlements are, and always have been, illegal

Hence, while the enclaves are reminders of how Palestine has been depleted by Israeli colonialism, the fragmentation is also exacerbated by the PA’s economic policies, particularly in the occupied West Bank. The book quotes Palestinian economist Adel Samara who believes that, “The PA’s economy may be alone in having been designed from the very beginning by the policies and prescriptions of globalising institutions.” Clarno also notes that the PA’s economic restructuring, for example, was done by former International Monetary Fund (IMF) employee Salam Fayyad, resulting in producing “wealth for Palestinian capitalists… but very few jobs for working class Palestinians.” In addition, Palestinians are disposable for Palestinians as regards labour, which results in a system in which employment granted by Israel becomes a privilege for individual subjugation.

The incorporation of workers in oppression is a common feature which Clarno expounds upon with meticulous clarity, particularly in security and surveillance. Starting with Johannesburg, the author explains how criminality is associated with race post-apartheid and how the exhibited insecurity from the elite is “rooted in colonial exploitation”. The elite is offered protection by private security firms employing working class black South Africans, with the latter also being the major target of policing. To consolidate the exploitation, the security industry is also low-wage work, thus ensuring the continuation of economic and social segregation.

For Palestinians, the scenario is replete with additional complications. Since security coordination serves Israel first and foremost, the system is imbued with oppression from the coloniser and the PA as its collaborator. Clarno describes the dynamics thus: “The incorporation of the Palestinian Authority into Israel’s security regime builds on a long history of settler-colonial and imperial strategies for indirect rule.” Politically since Oslo, security coordination has been defined as the PA strategy for pursuing the path to an independent Palestinian state, resting upon “the ability of the PA to neutralise the organised Palestinian opposition and ensure the security of Israel.” While security coordination is reviled, it is also the largest industry of the PA, partly due to the dire financial inequality which increased the likelihood of seeking employment within a reviled structure.

One important point which Clarno makes regarding security coordination in the occupied West Bank is how it has become an area experimenting in “population management”, thus complementing what Israel is doing in Gaza by using the enclave for testing new weapons and munitions.

Read: Israel is an apartheid state; let’s not pretend otherwise

The often mentioned understanding of the Palestinian plight from the South African perspective is given a different dimension in this book. It is not merely a question of emulating a previous process, but of understanding limitations. For Palestinians, it means awareness of how settler-colonialism and capitalism need to be taken into consideration jointly. Clarno’s proposal is to redefine apartheid as something that “emphasises the articulation between racism and capitalism.” Instead of marginalising apartheid to humanitarian concerns, such an approach would have to acknowledge the dynamics of partial autonomy or its complete annihilation as a “strategy for managing the racialised poor.” While Palestine’s experience is considered far more brutal than the South African apartheid regime, the experienced similarities of both entities despite their different political stages would provide the foundations for increased organisation and mobilisation.